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Trinity Heights completes St. Joseph Center renovation

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

With apologies to songwriter Peter Allen, almost everything at Trinity Heights Queen of Peace that was old is new again.

The St. Joseph Visitor Center has recently re-opened with a fresh coat of paint and enough remodeling to rival any project on HGTV.

Executive Director Terry Hegarty explained the center had been closed since Dec. 9 for enhancements and remodeling.

“This renovation was made possible through a grant from the Gilchrist Foundation,” he said. “The grant enabled us to make detailed enhancements to the center and museum.”

The changes will ensure guests – typically more than 100,000 annually – will have a great experience at the center, Hegarty noted.

“Individuals come from every state in the U.S. and many countries throughout the world,” he said. “We want to make sure they come away with memories they will treasure for a lifetime.”

The St. Joseph Center was built in 1995 to house the full-sized, wood carving of the Last Supper, created by Jerry Traufler of Le Mars.

“The first stage of the project was to replace the roof to protect the carving and other art work housed in the center,” Hegarty said. “The cost of the entire project was about $35,000, but $21,000 went to the roof because of its unique, domed configuring.”

The second stage of the project focused on the interior of the building which necessitated the closure to visitors.

That included:
– painting interior walls
– replacing most of the carpet
– adding pews (from the recently-closed St. Paul Church, Scranton)
– installing French doors
– refinishing the restroom floors
– upgrading the video viewing area
– repositioning the museum
– creating an archival area
– purchasing new chairs

The biggest concern for Hegarty was the lack of a gathering area.

“We had no place for people to just hang out if they came out and the weather changed or if Grandma got tired and wanted to sit while others wandered the grounds,” he said.

A more welcoming space was created, complete with chairs and a flat-screen television which shows the Trinity story in photos and music in several different presentations.

“We are getting into our busy season now,” noted Mary Stevens, director of the St. Joseph Center/Museum. “Of the thousands who come during the entire year, we probably get 50 percent of those in the summer months. That’s why the remodeling, especially in the gathering space is so important.”

The refurbished area also includes two new stained glass windows, Hegarty added. “They were recovered from the Maryhill church,” Hegarty said of the windows featuring St. Boniface and St. Luke. “They are Munich art glass, in the same style as Cathedral of the Epiphany. They were restored locally with time and funds through the generosity of the Paul and Katherine Wolpert family.”

Keeping in mind the connection that Trinity Heights has with the college that bore its first name, a Trinity room was dedicated to the former school, Hegarty pointed out.

“We have yearbooks and memorabilia, but we wanted to have a place for individuals to sit down, relax and look at things,” he said. “We have pictures on display of all the classes, up to the final one in 1967. We also have St. Joseph and St. Vincent School of Nursing photos.”

Hegarty called the refurbishing project, which was completed in mid-March, “long overdue.”

“The visitor center has long been in need of update, but repairs have been financially impossible,” he acknowledged. “Through the generosity of the Gilchrist Foundation, Trinity Heights has been able to complete enhancements that were completely unforeseen in the immediate future without this fabulous gift.”

Although the changes have made for strong improvements, Hegarty stressed the approach to welcoming guests has not changed.

“We expect the visitors to Queen of Peace will still find the same, warm welcome of the past,” he said. “But the enhanced environment will provide a peaceful, truly relaxing visit when they come to the St. Joseph Center.”

Hegarty mused the improvements might even spur more visitors of all faiths.

“We expect even greater numbers of visitors in the near future, because the old is made new again,” he said. “Certainly, Trinity Heights is Catholic in theology, but we are ecumenical in our intent and appeal.”

“I remember when I started being amazed at the variety of people who visit us,” Stevens added. “I looked at the first 10 signatures in the guest book and they included visitors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and India. Often, visitors are brought to Trinity Heights by someone from Siouxland. That just speaks highly of what we are offering here.”

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